I saw one TV spot for Sicario and knew I wanted to see it. Benicio del Toro? Sign me up. Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin? Yes, please. Then Chris mentioned it was directed by the same person who directed Enemy, Denis Villeneuve, and I think maybe 10 minutes after he told me that I bought Friday night tickets.
So that’s all I knew going into it: the cast, the director, and that cops were involved. I didn’t even fully know the name of the movie until the woman at the box office asked what movie I was picking tickets up for. Sicario isn’t a comedy or a horror movie, which are the best movies to see for the first time without a trailer, so you don’t really need to know any more than that before you watch this. Just like Enemy (and my favorite show, True Detective, though there’s no connection there), Sicario lets you know everything you need to know, when you need to know it.
First we follow Kate (Blunt) and her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) on an FBI raid that Kate is running. At first, there’s just some bloodshed and the raid doesn’t seem too exciting – until the agents realize that there’s about 30 bodies buried within the walls of the house. While still going through the scene, a shed in the back of the house explodes, presumably killing the agents inside the shed and dismembering others, though Kate and Reggie survive. Afterward, Kate is pulled into a meeting with her boss, Dave (Victor Garber), Matt (Josh Brolin), whom she’s never met, and other important-looking guys. We hear Dave and Matt talking about how they need someone from the FBI to join Matt’s team; Matt zeroes in on Kate because she’s been there five years and is good at her job, and Reggie has a law degree, which Matt doesn’t like. Dave and Matt tell Kate next to nothing about the team or objective, but when Matt tells her they will get the people “truly” responsible for what happened at the raid, Kate is in.
Kate meets Alejandro (del Toro), whom she can’t quite figure out; it seems like he works for Matt at first, but the more Kate talks to him, the more mysterious he becomes. Kate is told they’re going on a mission to El Paso but instead they go to Juarez, Mexico to take a prisoner into the US for questioning – the prisoner happens to be the brother of the Mexican drug lord behind the house of bodies. The whole in-and-out of Mexico scene is incredible and super tense. They drive through Juarez, heavily armed and looking all around for possible gang members/killers. Kate is obviously overwhelmed and a little confused by the whole thing, and it doesn’t help that she is surrounded by men who will only give her the vaguest idea of what they’re doing. They get caught in a traffic jam when trying to re-enter the US and Kate and Alejandro start to notice suspicious-looking cars surrounding them. Alejandro calmly tells Kate to get her service weapon out, but that’s all he really tells her as she looks around frantically. The cops start to surround the cars, and as soon as one of the guys shows he has a weapon, the cops essentially murder all of them, in broad daylight, surrounded by civilians. Kate is horrified, but still kills someone herself who pops up behind her car, ready to kill her. When they get back to the US, Kate yells at Matt about how what they’re doing isn’t right, or even legal, and she shouldn’t be there, but Matt tells her that they have to do things this way to get to the cartel. The shot of Kate and Matt’s argument is huge; they’re surrounded mostly by desert while they stand in the center, arguing. It’s a great shot that shows how isolated they are, which is scary, but also how outside of the norm they’re operating, which is sort of scary for a different reason.
Alejandro and Matt torture the brother for details to the drug lord’s hideout and question migrant workers about a tunnel drug cartels use to move drugs between the US and Mexico. Kate calls Reggie to join them, and it’s obvious she does that because she needs someone on her side, someone she can talk to, and someone to be in this situation with her. They confront Matt and Alejandro together, demanding to know what’s going on. They tell them that they’re not really after the drug lord in question, known as Diaz, but Diaz’s boss, Alarcon, called “the ghost” because no one has been able to find him. Matt and Alejandro tell Kate and Reggie that their goal is to totally disrupt Diaz’s business enough to make him visit Alarcon in Mexico, where the cops will be able to find him. Later, they stake out a bank where Diaz’s money is laundered and arrest Diaz’s associates, which Kate thinks is enough to arrest Diaz, which Matt tells her is not true. He tells her to not go into the bank to get transaction records, but she does anyway and she and Reggie go to Dave to complain. The scene between Kate, Reggie, and Dave is great. It’s scary but also comforting; Dave understands Kate’s concerns (which is mostly that what they’re doing is illegal), but tells her the authority in Matt’s team is not with Dave, but elected officials in Washington, so Dave has no power to intervene. He also tells her “If you’re worried about crossing boundaries, the boundaries have expanded.” It’s a situation I could really identify with; Kate’s boss is still being vague with her, and while he acknowledges her concerns also acknowledges that there isn’t anything any of them can do about it. The honesty is nice, but disheartening.
That night, Kate and Reggie go drinking where they run into Ted, Reggie’s old friend from local law enforcement. Reggie finds a girl for himself and the four of them drink, dance, and Kate and Ted make out on the dancefloor before Kate and Ted are making out on Kate’s couch. As Ted empties his pockets, Kate notices he has the same tie dyed rubber band that was used on the stacks of cash Diaz’s associates had when they arrested them at the bank. Kate gets away from him, tries to recover without making anything obvious, but when Ted also notices the rubber band, she grabs her gun and Ted attacks her. They get into a fairly brutal fight, complete with throwing Kate around and finally almost strangling her to death. As Kate’s vision gets blurry, she looks up to Alejandro standing above them, who beats up Ted. As it turns out, Matt and Alejandro followed Kate and Reggie because they suspected they would be targeted after they walked into the bank, as the bank’s security cameras captured their faces. Ted was one of the many local cops in Diaz’s pocket and targeted Kate specifically. Kate, who feels stupid after the whole thing (“I just tried to sleep with my hitman”) takes some comfort in Alejandro, who essentially tells her it wasn’t her fault and that she reminds him of someone who was close to him. He speaks softly to her, and even though Alejandro has been pretty scary up to this point, it’s obvious that Kate finds his presence at least a little comforting.
The next day, the team raids the drug-smuggling tunnels that the migrants told them about. But even this is not what it appears to Kate – the raid turns out to just be a diversion to give Alejandro a chance to sneak to the other side, where a drug deal is being made, and kidnaps Silvio, a Mexican cop that the movie has vaguely followed as he lives his life with his wife and son while being a crooked cop working for a drug cartel. Kate catches Alejandro in the act, hearing Silvio refer to Alejandro as “Medellín” and when she tries to arrest him, Alejandro shoots her in her bulletproof vest, tells her to go back to the US, and takes off with Silvio. As soon as Kate is back on the other side of the tunnel, she punches Matt (who fights back) and demands to know what the fuck is going on and who the fuck Medellín is. Then Matt lays it all out for her: Medellín is a Columbian cartel that the CIA has a certain amount of control over, and their goal is to restore Medellín to power over all the cartels so that the CIA has a small semblance of control. They need Kate on their team because, as she is FBI, with her approval the CIA can move around Mexico without jurisdiction. When Kate asks Matt who Alejandro really is, who he really works for, he tells her the truth: that Alejandro will work for whomever will lead him to the man that decapitated his wife and threw his daughter into a vat of acid – Alarcon.
Alejandro and Silvio catch up to Diaz as he is on his way to Alarcon’s, with Silvio driving his cop car. Alejandro forces Silvio to pull Diaz over, and in a very quiet and tense scene Silvio follows Alejandro’s orders to get Diaz out of the car, which includes Silvio getting out of the car, too. Alejandro then kills Silvio, wounds Diaz, and makes Diaz drive him to Alarcon’s. Alejandro kills Diaz and the guards surrounding Alarcon’s mansion. Finally, Alejandro finds Alarcon eating dinner with his wife and two sons. Heavily armed, Alejandro approaches Alarcon and his nervous family. Alarcon acknowledges he murdered Alejandro’s family, but wonders if Alejandro’s wife would approve of Alejandro now, because he is now working for the Columbian cartel that is really no different from Alarcon’s cartel. Alejandro is unmoved and quickly murders the sons and wife in three quick shots. For the first time, Alarcon looks at Alejandro with true fear before Alejandro murders him, too.
The next morning, as Kate nervously smokes a cigarette on her balcony, Alejandro sneaks into her apartment. When she hears him, she’s scared, but quietly pulls the curtain back to see him calmly sitting in her living room. He’s come to get her to sign a waiver that says the entire mission and team was done by the books, which Kate refuses to sign. She tells Alejandro she can’t sign it through tears and as she shakes. Alejandro puts a gun to her head and tells her that not signing would be suicide, and why would she want to do that? Kate signs and pulls out her gun as soon as Alejandro leaves, but as she points the gun at him while he walks back to his car, he turns to look at her and she lowers her gun.
I think anyone who, as an adult, has been in a situation where their bosses won’t reveal anything to them but makes them do work can 100% identify with Kate. I’ve certainly been in that situation countless times, and while the stakes aren’t even on the same level, the feeling Kate has of being totally out of control still rings true. Alejandro tells Kate that when she’s scared, she looks like a little girl – and that’s so telling because one easy way to make an adult feel like a child is to make them feel like they must do something, with no other context or alternative.
Overall, I think Sicario is much less about drug cartels and politics than about the haziness of right and wrong. Kate is our pillar, our “everyman,” who wants to do what’s right and thinks she has a clear understanding of what that is. Everything about Alejandro questions that: he’s a victim and a villain; we feel sorry for him because of his family’s brutal murder but watch while he murders another family. We don’t know if Alejandro is right or wrong, but it doesn’t matter because it all happens anyway. And then in the end, Kate is faced with the ultimate right or wrong debacle – to sign or not sign the waiver. If she signs, she’s going against her conscience and what she feels is “right.” If she doesn’t sign, she’ll be killed, making everything else a moot point and punishing her family and friends. She has to choose a correct answer out of two wrong answers, but once she’s in the situation it almost doesn’t matter what’s right or wrong, because something is going to happen.
I also think Sicario was great at developing, but not over-developing, its characters. We know next to nothing about anyone’s personal life, and the movie doesn’t try to hide that; Matt wears a wedding ring yet a wife is not even mentioned, Kate answers a question about a husband with saying she’s divorced – we somehow end up knowing more about Alejandro’s personal life (his past with his family) than anyone else’s, despite him being the most mysterious out of anyone. Because of this, we knew what we needed to know – but no more, because that would just clog everything up.
Sicario was tightly filmed and super tense. The score is amazing and very True Detective Season 1-esque, and the long shots of highways and deserts was also very True Detective Season 2-esque, which I’m always down for. All of the acting was subtle and really powerful. There just wasn’t really anything about Sicario that wasn’t totally on point.
Walking into this movie all I really knew were the actors and that it was directed by Denis Villeneuve. Since Elizabeth and I both really liked his other film, Enemy, we really wanted to see this one in the theaters. And I don’t think it disappointed at all.
What I really enjoyed about the film was that we sort of had two main characters, Emily Blunt’s character, Kate Macer, and Benicio del Toro’s character, Alejandro. You are following two sides of the same story but only find stuff out as Kate’s character does. She is a very capable leader in her department but once she is thrown into this new world with completely different rules, she’s as lost as we are. However, we have Alejandro and Josh Brolin’s character, Matt Garver, who know everything that’s going on but don’t feel the need to tell Kate until necessary or she basically forces them too. I feel like people might not like Kate’s character because she was in the dark but that created such a good vessel for us, the viewer, to feel part of the world Denis Villeneuve created. Very stressful, high stakes, and not fully understanding what needs to be done until the end.
Also the relationship between Kate and her partner Reggie Wayne, played by Daniel Kaluuya was very refreshing. With a movie so full of secrets the way they always talked about the situations they encountered was fantastic. It was also nice that nothing between them was sexual. It was all business and was maintained by keeping each other safe.
This movie is full of stressful scenes that continue to keep you invested from the opening scene. I would highly recommend this movie to anyone!